Self-described as something of a musical chameleon (my summation, not his), I approach Rollins’ Can’t Hide EP with an open mind.
Opening track Come Here showcases a very pristine RnB production with a lightness of touch around both instrumentation choice and vocal delivery. Sassy little soundbites and spot sound effects paint a very contemporary picture, and the choice of marimba-synth, panpipe-like lines, human whistling, tabla and 808s, along with an unfussy and pretty clipped, precise rhythmic vocal delivery disguise some very sharp lyrical skewering hiding just beneath the sheen: ‘Vibrate, I’m sick of emojis / Come here, I want you to hold me’. All-in-all, it’s a razor-sharp and fresh opener that’s both well-produced and savvy.
Dreaming of You wouldn’t sound out of place on a Prefab Sprout or Candle Thieves record. In fact, vocally, there is a real similarity between Mr Rollins and Paddy McAloon. And, in the case of this song, in the written vocal melodies, too. In my book, that’s a big compliment.
Sporting a shameless 80s production complete with synth drum kit and enough reverb and delay on the vocals to sink a battleship, Dreaming of You clocks in at exactly 3 minutes and doesn’t waste a second, as it’s over far too soon. A little haunting, a little nostalgic, and a lot good. Also the longest song on the EP!
No Te Conozco means (as long as Google hasn’t let me down) ‘I don’t know you’. And now we’re into a Spanish and English exploration into trap and rap that delivers in terms of vocoder use and in the delivery of the rap itself. So, it seems the ‘musical chameleon’ tag that I gave the intriguingly-named Dakoda at the top of this review is panning out. Incredibly, it’s done at just a smidge over 2 minutes, and as a different flavour on the EP, is very effective.
Up next is 22 (Derrick Henry) and we are sticking with trap and using Derrick Henry as a cultural touchstone to hang this composition from. At a little over 2 minutes, there’s no danger of the listener’s attention span being over-tested: each of these pop nuggets smacks in hard and fast and leaves an impression. It’s very clear that Rollins is an accomplished musician who knows exactly what he’s setting out to achieve. The raps sound authentic and accomplished, and although I had to look up who Derrick Henry was to gain a proper appreciation of the material, these songs can sit alongside similar works by artists like KSI and Post Malone without feeling out of place.
We are back to percussive synths punching out the rhythm over a 4-on-the-floor kick at the top of Tell the World. There are some sweet pop melodies and yet more sharp pop production to enhance them as the track progresses. The voice is used as an instrument in plenty of different ways to make a point here – and it becomes all about the production. It carves out some unique sonic space, moving the voice to the background and the foreground and allowing words to be really explored with the mouth, painting some pretty unique moments. I realise that’s pretty hard to understand, so you should just go listen to it!
Ending the set is a great and funky cover of the late, great Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Criminally short at a touch over 2 minutes, it’s a soulful rendition and yet Rollins makes no secret of the fact that auto-tune is used towards the end. It’s a curious choice, as the vocals sound tuneful and have a pleasant natural vibrato to them, particularly in the falsetto on this tune. However, it embeds all of the productions in the now, and maybe that’s the point. It certainly doesn’t detract in any way, unless you’re some kind of militant purist!
As an EP, then, it’s a little schizophrenic, but in these days of releasing small and regular over the prospect of the artistic behemoth that is an album, Can’t Hide is great! It zips along at a heck of a pace and is never less than interesting, exciting, fresh and accomplished. Rollins may be wearing many hats on his musical journey, but they all appear to be fitting him pretty well.